How Do I Deal with My 2-Year-Old's Temper Tantrums?

Reviewed on 6/9/2021

One challenging part of dealing with a toddler is the tantrum phase that typically begins around 1 to 4 years of age. Tips for handling tantrums can include staying calm, using timeouts, being consistent, and more. Preventing tantrums can involve praising them when doing a good job and letting them make decisions on minor things so they feel in control.
One challenging part of dealing with a toddler is the tantrum phase that typically begins around 1 to 4 years of age. Tips for handling tantrums can include staying calm, using timeouts, being consistent, and more. Preventing tantrums can involve praising them when doing a good job and letting them make decisions on minor things so they feel in control.

Parenting is hard work, and the “terrible twos” can be a challenge. This part of normal development when children start to act defiant, test boundaries, assert independence, and learn how to communicate can last from age 1 to 4 years. 

Children this age are testing boundaries and gaining independence, but they don’t have the communication skills or reasoning to understand what is and is not safe. When they don’t get what they want, they can easily become frustrated. Temper tantrums in which children may cry or throw themselves on the floor are one sign of this. 

In addition to temper tantrums, other signs of the “terrible twos” may include: 

  • Kicking, biting, or hitting
    • Toddlers do not have the communication skills to express themselves clearly, and impulse control is still developing
  • Saying “no”
    • Even when it doesn’t make sense for the situation, toddlers say no to test boundaries
  • Being territorial
    • The concept of “mine” and “yours” is not yet clear to them, and they will pick fights over things they believe are “theirs” even they aren’t 

It can be challenging to deal with a 2-year-old’s temper tantrums but there are some strategies parents can employ to diffuse tantrums and get through this developmental stage: 

  • Stay calm
    • The calmer you are, the faster the tantrum will subside
    • If you get frustrated, that can make the child more frustrated
    • When children get attention, even negative attention, for their behavior they are more likely to continue it
    • If it is just attention-seeking, ignore the tantrum – children often misbehave to get a reaction and attention
      • If you ignore the child, understand the behavior may get worse before it gets better
      • The child is trying harder to get attention because this has worked in the past
      • This is actually a good sign that ignoring the tantrum is working
      • When they learn that misbehaving does not get attention, the behavior will improve
    • Try to understand what the source of the child’s frustration is, and offer comfort if needed
    • Note: Children who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. Aggressive or dangerous behavior should not be dealt with by ignoring the child.
  • Consistency is key
    • Stick to rules and consequences
    • For example, if you tell your child a timeout is the consequence for misbehavior, enforce it
    • Be a good example; children learn by watching adults
  • Use timeouts
    • If a toddler is acting in an unacceptable manner (biting, hitting, throwing food), first explain to them why this behavior is unacceptable, and then put them in a timeout
    • A general rule of thumb is timeouts should be about 1 minute per year of age
    • Timeouts should be in a distraction-free area (no TV or toys) and parents should not give the child any attention, such as talking or even eye contact
  • Remove temptation
    • Toddlers are naturally curious
    • Keep things that can be dangerous to little ones such as phones, electronics, and choking hazards such as jewelry or buttons out of reach
    • Safely store medications and cleaning supplies where toddlers can’t access them
  • Use distractions
    • If a child is approaching something they should not play with, calmly say, “no,” and distract them with another activity or move them from the area
    • Get a favorite toy or book and start calmly talking to the child
    • Spanking is not effective, because at this age children cannot make the connection between the behavior (which they do not yet understand to be off-limits) and the physical punishment
      • All spanking teaches is that it’s acceptable to hit people when angry
  • Dealing with a tantrum in public
    • Meltdowns in public can be embarrassing
    • Don’t worry what others think – focus on dealing with your child
    • If a tantrum does occur in public, try narrating how the child is feeling, for example, “You sound frustrated. Did you want that toy?” This can help the toddler figure out how to communicate their frustration. 
    • Distraction helps out of the home as well
      • Look at and talk about things around you such as pictures on the wall or items on store shelves, leave the store or restaurant and go for a walk, or go through your purse or pockets to shift the child’s attention to something else

Tips to prevent temper tantrums include: 

  • Notice when your child is being good, and reward them for their positive behavior
    • For example, they can get a star for good behavior and if they collect a certain amount, they can get a prize, such as a small toy or book
  • Allow the toddler control over small things to help them feel independent
    • Let them choose an apple or banana for lunch, for example
  • When toddlers are learning new things, start with something easy before moving to more challenging tasks
    • This helps build confidence
    • Choose age-appropriate toys and games
  • When a child does want something, consider granting the request when it is reasonable
  • Know your child's limits
    • If your toddler is tired, it may not be the best time to take them along grocery shopping 

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Reviewed on 6/9/2021
References
https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/toddler-tantrums.html

https://www.thebump.com/a/terrible-twos